While truck driving is considered one of the most dangerous occupations in the U.S., the majority of professional drivers get through their careers without being involved in any major accidents.
However, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), commercial truck drivers account for 2.4% of all traffic fatalities nationwide every year. In some states, weather plays a contributing role.
Based on NHTSA numbers and driver sentiment, the following states have some of the worst weather for truckers.
(Photo: Colorado DOT)
At 8.8%, North Dakota has the highest truck driver fatality rate in the country. This is partially due to the state’s oil boom, but weather also plays a big role.
North Dakota is a big, cold state, and most problems occur when drivers need to make good miles in icy conditions. When driving in North Dakota, truckers have to contend with blowing snow that piles up in ridges and often produces long periods of whiteout conditions.
Drivers who are not accustomed to this type of weather can cause accidents, bringing traffic to a screeching halt. Shoulders are covered in snow and often hard to see, leading to drivers veering off the roads.
The biggest weather issues facing truck drivers in Colorado are black ice and high winds. Many truck drivers use Colorado as a shortcut to the west, but this can stress out drivers, as well as add to wear and tear on the truck. One of the most treacherous stretches is Interstate 70 from just west of Denver to Glenwood Springs. This includes the Eisenhower Tunnel.
“In my opinion, it’s better to take I-80 until Utah and then go to Los Angeles through Salt Lake City. It’s a lot easier that way,” Deymon Lavor, a professional truck driver, told Business Insider in September 2019. “It’s a little more miles, but you are a lot more safer that way.”
Texas is truck country — for both 18-wheelers and pickups. It’s rare to encounter a pickup truck driver from Texas who isn’t familiar with how 18-wheelers maneuver in traffic, and they will make room for the big trucks when necessary. So many truckers say it’s easier to navigate most Texas roads compared to roads in other states.
But with a truck driver fatality rate at 3.6%, there must be something challenging about driving in Texas. It comes down to flash flooding that can appear out of nowhere during hurricanes or intense thunderstorms.
(Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)
Wyoming is another state in which truckers have to deal with high winds, especially around Elk Mountain, where some freeways turn diagonal. The wind there will often lead to tractor-trailer rollovers and chain reaction accidents, even on sunny days.
“From November all the way till May, it seems like I-80 is closed most of the time because of snow, ice and wind,” truck driver Jack S. Halquist said. “Trucks can be waiting on the side of the road in a line as far as 10 miles waiting for the freeway to open. This can be as long as a few days and newer truck drivers don’t know this and are not prepared, and quite often they do not have any food or places to go to the bathroom.”
High crosswinds often cause trouble for truckers in Nebraska due to wide-open spaces.
Especially when a trailer is empty, an 18-wheeler can easily be blown off the road, leading to a rollover. The reason is because the trailer provides a large surface area for impact. But crosswinds aren’t the only issue. Strong headwinds can slow down drivers and reduce fuel efficiency, and strong tailwinds can sway an empty or light trailer.
On some winter days, the winds can be accompanied by rapidly changing conditions from rain to snow and vice versa. This makes roads even more dangerous for truckers.